Restaurant menu

Virtual cooking classes and more restaurant menu innovations

In January, the idea of ​​driving through a restaurant and picking up not only burgers and fries but also a gallon of milk and a bunch of bananas would have seemed ridiculous.

However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may well be in our future.

“If grocery items become something that resonates with our consumers, we’ll continue to do so,” said Tony Darden, president of Mooyah Burgers Fries and Shakes, 83 Units, based in Plano, TX.

Mooyah franchisees found that their customers struggled to source basic items like bread, potatoes and ground beef from supermarkets, which suddenly saw an increase in demand they had to. hard to satisfy. So, like many restaurants, they started selling the ingredients that were delivered by their suppliers, as well as the chain’s homemade bread rolls, as groceries to their guests. Darden said it generated enough sales to make franchisees’ efforts worth it, and it also fills a need in their communities.

Grocery sales have been one of the top three food innovations restaurants have turned to in the face of sudden drop in traffic and the closure of their dining rooms. The other two were family meals – packages with an appetizer large enough and enough sides for four to six people ready to take home and reheat – and meal kits, which required assembly, reheating, or light cooking once the guests brought them home.

Operators say these three new offerings will likely remain in restaurants in the post-pandemic world, and that other innovations are also underway.

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Handcrafted Hospitality, which operates six concepts in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has set up a sort of bodega next to a beachfront location of its Tacocraft concept, offering a take-out menu as well as groceries. , cocktails and beer.

Marc Falsetto, the founder and CEO of Handcrafted Hospitality, which operates six concepts in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has set up a sort of bodega next to a beachfront location of his Tacocraft concept, through which he offers a take-out and take-out menu as well as groceries such as tomatoes, avocados, and hot sauce, as well as full-size cocktails and bottles of alcohol and beer. His Henry’s Sandwich Station has started offering his meat and cheese by the pound, as well as tomatoes, avocados and onions, and he sees no reason why he would stop offering these items.

“We have had huge success with this,” he said.

The meal kits were everything from the At Home Taco Bar that Taco Bell introduced in early May – including enough flour tortillas, taco shells, crisps, seasoned beef, shredded lettuce, nacho cheese sauce. and hot sauce pouches for six, all wrapped and sealed for home use – to the more labor-demanding spring meal kits from California Pizza Kitchen, which offer a choice of beef, chicken or of raw salmon to cook at home and to serve with a spinach and artichoke dip, sourdough bread, a Caesar salad, raw fingerling potatoes and oil to cook them and, for dessert, butter cake and ice cream .

Kids’ pizza kits have also quickly become a favorite subset of the meal kit genre, and it’s now an option at Mici Handcrafted Italian, a Denver-based, quick and casual six-unit pizza chain, to which the CEO Elliot Schiffer wouldn’t have thought. get rid of once the dining rooms reopened: They sold over 2,000, at $ 5.99 apiece plus $ 1 per garnish, in the first three weeks of their availability.

“What we realize is that we probably should have had this from the start,” he said.

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Mici Handcrafted Italian sold over 2,000 of their kids’ do-it-yourself pizza kits for $ 5.99 in the first three weeks they were available.

In terms of family meals, Chicago-based multi-concept operator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises has introduced a new service called Lettuce Take Care of You, where customers can order three meals – each for a family of four – for the week. and choose them. at the edge of the street.

Executive partner Jerrod Melman said customers order them online and then call the restaurant as they drive to the curb and describe the make of their car so they can be easily found.

“We can prepare almost 200 meals in 20 minutes. It’s pretty incredible, ”he said. They are all wrapped and wrapped and contain reheating instructions.

Then there are the more out-of-the-box innovations that probably would never have happened without a government-mandated lockdown, like the virtual cocktail classes hosted live on Instagram by Alex Fletcher, the director of beverages at Jaxon Beer. Garden, which had the unfortunate moment of opening in early March.

Owner Kevin Lillis sees them as a way to retain guests, which is a great idea whether your dining room is open or not. The same goes for virtual cooking classes, which he plans to introduce.

Everyone would get the same meal kit, “and then the chef comes in and we all cook it together,” he said. “It’s absolutely something we’re going to do.”

Handcrafted_Hospitality_Image2.jpgPhoto: Henry’s Sandwich Station has started offering meat and cheese by the pound, along with tomatoes, avocados and onions.

Lillis also has a catering hall in the works next to Jaxon, which has obviously been delayed to open, but next to the catering hall they plan to have guest chefs in residence, and Lillis now plans to introduce virtual cooking classes to build excitement before their residencies – something that would not have occurred to her without the innovation the pandemic has made necessary.

“Social distancing has been the opposite of what I have focused my entire career on and what our business is focused on, which is bringing people together,” he said. . “[But] it helped everyone become more creative about what it’s like to spend time together.

The menu structures are subject to change a bit in the future. Delivery menus will likely include family meals which may or may not be a dining option, but will include less fried foods, which, with the exception of fried chicken, tend not to travel well. Adam Hegsted, chef-owner of the Eat Good Group, which has 11 restaurants in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, said dishes like risotto and paella are also bad ideas for delivery, and beautiful dishes such as pan-fried pork belly are reworked into take-out sliders.

You can also expect less beef on the menu for a while, as processing plant closures linked to the pandemic disrupted supply.

Similar disturbances in pork and chicken are likely to be short-lived as chickens can be produced in as little as five weeks and pigs from insemination to harvest take just under nine months; According to the National Pork Board, current bacon shortages are related to supply chain bottlenecks, not actual shortages.

But it takes about three years to produce beef, and the fact that processing plants are not currently buying cattle has meant that fewer of them are placed in feedlots, which could result in a medium-term price increase.

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Contact Bret at [email protected]

Find him on Twitter: @FoodWriterDiary



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